The 2001 Philippine Open (Semi-Finals) was one of the most interesting chess events of the early 21'st Century. And not only because of the excellent start and sensational collapse of NM Rodrigo Atutubo, it is also the very first high caliber tournament sanctioned by the newly formed National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP). NCFP was fresh from it's victory over the floundering chess organization Philippine Chess Federation (PCF).
The media coverage of the tournament was huge. I remember that almost all the sports journalist/writer (not only chess journalist) was there to cover the event. And not only that, ABS-CBN also sent it's own representative to cover the event. The tournament was held at the 2nd floor of Greenhills Shopping Mall. The total prize fund of the tournament was huge, in the semi-final alone the total prize fund was close to P500,000.
Atutubo started the tournament like a house on fire! He was in such devilish form, crushing everyone left, right and center! He won the first 6 rounds in crushing fashion. In the 7th round he faced the then IM Paragua (the Filipino prodigy, the rising star and the future of Philippine Chess... Well, Wesley had not yet made his presence felt, he was only 6yrs old!), Paragua was the hottest player in those days, his International successes was well known to everyone.
In the 7th round, during the time that my opponent was still considering his move in the opening phase of the game, I stood up and wandered around the hall, then I made a beeline towards the top board. The first thing I noticed when I came over was Paragua's intense gaze almost piercing me with his look, but I did not back down and returned the favor. I saw that their opening was a Scotch. After awhile I went back to my table. Later I learned that Drigo had crushed him with enviable ease and in only 26 moves!
What happened in the next four rounds was quite unbelievable, after a fantastic start of 7 out of 7, Atutubo lost three successive games and earned one draw, tragic...
If Atutubo's (first half) performance was fantastic, the then NM Senador's performance was much more remarkable! After losing the first two games he did not lost hope, he went through to his last nine games like a hot knife through butter! He won 9 straight games to finish in tie for first place (together with IM Idelfonso Datu) with 9pts!
I started the tournament indifferently, losing the first game, winning the second game and again lost the third game. But in the next four rounds I caught a favorable wind, winning four straight games (starting from 4th round to 7th). This brought me a very tense 8th round encounter with Oliver Barbosa (incidentally Barbie won the semi-finals of the 2004 National Open). In a sharp non-standard position I held the slightest of advantage for quite a long time, but at the critical juncture I miscalculated and lost.
I rebounded with three straight wins (rounds 9th to 11th), along the way beating the then IM Nelson Mariano in another French encounter. I ended the tournament with 8pts, a tie for 16th to 30th place with IMs Paragua, Roca and NMs Sadorra, Sanchez (now GM), Gomez (now GM), Pacis, Sinangote etc...
Atutubo finished the tournament with 7.5pts, NMs Hamed Nouri and Rudy Toledo also ended the event with the same score, 7.5pts. While fellow Illongo NM Cesar Mariano was a notch lower with 7pts.
Almost 200 players took part in this event. The Grandmasters are already directly seeded to the Finals, while the IMs, FMs, NMs are seeded to the Semi-Finals plus the 12 Regional Top10 Qualifiers made this tournament a very intense and brutal event.
Postscript: I will never forget the look of the tournament Bulletin Board before the start of Round 8. All the sports headlines was shouting only one name. Rodrigo Atutubo. He was leading in the tournament so naturally all the newspaper clippings (big and small) bears his name with different articles but with the same story. His lead in the tournament...
My source for the scores are the now defunct Chess Asia Vol.15 No.1